In recent years, several L.A. arts leaders have migrated to Washington. They include Earl "Rusty Powell," who left LACMA for the National Gallery of Art; former MOCA and Art Center chief Richard Koshalek, who until recently led the Hirshhorn Museum; and former Autry Center head John Gray, who runs the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
And Arvind Manocha, who ran the Hollywood Bowl for the past decade, is winding down his first summer season as president and CEO of Wolftrap, America’s national park for the performing arts.
For Manocha, some things haven’t changed: he’s still responsible for overseeing a landmark venue where audiences enjoy music under the summer stars. Sitting in his office amid 65 acres of woods and wetlands, Manocha says the Bowl and Wolftrap are similar — both are an oasis in a crowded metro environment. And they're alike in another way: their sense of community.
"Wolftrap, like the Bowl, is a multi-generational experience," Manocha notes. "People came with their parents as children."
Manocha says he meets people who come with friends and asks how they know each other.
"And they say, 'We all met at Wolftrap and we’ve been coming together as families ever since.'"
Manocha often found that dynamic in L.A., where he worked for 17 years. He came to the L.A. Philharmonic, guiding the orchestra’s 2001 move to Disney Hall. Three years later, he was managing the Hollywood Bowl and three years after that, he became the chief operating officer for the Phil itself.
Manocha was almost the stereotypical Angeleno – Midwestern roots, emigrée parents from India. And all he knew about L.A. was what he’d seen on TV.
"It was a place I had never visited in my life," he says. Like many Angelenos, it was a job that brought him to town. And what he encountered surprised him: "I didn’t expect to find so much art and culture."
Manocha had attended Cambridge, which he describes as hundreds and hundreds of years of tradition that boxes everyone and everything in. "For those who criticize L.A.," he says, "I think they think that Angelenos don’t know what the box is, and I think, actually, Angelenos don’t care what the box is."
He says L.A. audiences at the Bowl and Disney Hall were open to artistic challenges. "The expectation and the pressure in a good sense for innovation and change is very strong," he says. Southern California is a community of people who "expect change and want to see things evolve over time." That openness, he says, gave him confidence that "taking chances and making change is going to be rewarded." Manocha says audiences in D.C. are equally interested and excited about new work, new ideas.
But the Wolftrap experience is different in other ways. The venue — about 20 miles outside of Washington in Virginia — is about a third the size of the Bowl. Because D.C. often has rain in the summer, parts of the audience seating is covered. People still picnic, but there are no bottles rolling down concrete steps in the middle of a concert, like there are at the Bowl.
Parking is free at Wolftrap and Manocha laughs when he recalls patrons complaining about traffic getting out of the parking lot. He tells them the alternative is what Bowl-goers experience: "It’s incredibly expensive and it’s mostly stacked parking and it’s at the intersection of Highland Avenue and the 101!"
Parking issues aside, Manocha wants to introduce new artists to Wolftrap and bring some of the international musicians who perform at the smaller indoor venue, known as “The Barns,” out to the outdoor summer stage.
He's also excited about working next door to Washington. "The world changes because of things that happen in our backyard!" he says. And that, says Arvind Manocha, is “awe inspiring.”